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The I Ching

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Centred on the study of sixty-four 6-line figures (The Hexagrams) representing the yin and yang of the ten thousand things under Heaven, The Classic of Changes or I Ching is one of the oldest books in the world. In this revisioning of the I Ching, retired Jungian analyst Peggy Jones explores the processes of change and balance as reflected in the hexagrams for the contemporary reader.

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1. Ch'ien / The Creative, Heaven

ePub

above Ch'ien / The Creative, Heaven

below Ch'ien / The Creative, Heaven

above Ch'ien / The Creative, Heaven

below Ch'ien / The Creative, Heaven

In human life, the Creative works to activate, to engender, to inspire. It raises our energy level and expands and extends our capacities. This energy is bright and sharp, often impatient with the requirements or details of a process. In fact, when we or the atmosphere around us are charged with this pure, yang energy, there may be a sense almost of invulnerability, even God-likeness. For this reason, there may well be a considerable degree of resistance to the limits imposed by human life and the conditions of the world. The process of transformation may have its roots in the Creative, but unless our awareness also undergoes an expansion the net result of such a time could be no more than the after-glow of a beautiful fireworks display.

The construction of the hexagram consists of the trigram Ch'ien repeated in both upper and lower positions. Both nuclear trigrams are also Ch'ien. This construction represents the timeless, undivided, unconditioned force of creativity. As such, it is not any thing, and is unable to become some thing without being received, modified, and given form. At that point time enters the picture as the medium, the dimension through which creativity and transformation occur. The Creative is continuous; it does not have a resting state. It is a dynamic constant, the energy of which finds expression in the innumerable finite forms that have arisen since the universe came into being. Thus, it permeates, activates, and is identical with every living thing, every process, every experience. The Creative, seamlessly and dynamically embracing and embraced by the Receptive (see K'un, below), each carrying the seed of the other within, constitutes Life, eternal and unopposed.

 

2. K'un / The Receptive, Earth

ePub

above Kun / The Receptive, Earth

below Kun / The Receptive, Earth

above Kun / The Receptive, Earth

below Kun / The Receptive, Earth

K'un is a calendar hexagram representing the ninth month, November-December. In the northern hemisphere it is the season of the year when the days are shortest and growth appears to have ceased. All is quiet. All four trigrams that constitute the hexagram are K'un. There are no light, yang lines. This is the opposite of the month represented by Ch'ien, May-June, where there are no dark, yin lines remaining in the hexagram. (See Hexagram 1, Ch'ien / The Creative, above.)

The relationship of the Receptive to the Creative is best illustrated not by words, but by the Taoist symbol, t'ai chi (Wilhelm, 1989, p. lv), which represents the complementarity of the two within an overall unity: a circle encloses two interlocking embryonic forms, one black, the other white. Within the black lies a white ‘eye’ and within the white lies a black ‘eye’. The Creative and the Receptive, Yang and Yin, interpenetrate each other and are indivisible. Therefore, if we wish to discuss them we should always strive to remember that the separation is artificial, a necessary dualistic trick to enable us to explore the two energies.

 

3. Chun / Difficulty at the Beginning

ePub

above Kan / The Abysmal, Water

below Chên / The Arousing, Thunder

above Kên / Keeping Still, Mountain

below Kun / The Receptive, Earth

There is a Maori creation myth that pictures the first coupling of Heaven and Earth producing offspring who must force the cosmic parents apart in order to emerge, thereby creating the space in which life itself can exist. The story reflects the fact that birth always requires a struggle and a separation from what was before. While the process is chaotic, it is not reversible, and it carries within itself the energy to see it through, as well as the trials that make it hazardous. At first it might feel as if the new thing is almost life-threatening in its determination to undermine a previously established balance, and we may resist its efforts to pry us open and emerge, but without the drive towards visibility with which new ideas or parts of ourselves are imbued, our ‘offspring’ would never see the light of day.

Structurally the image suggested by the trigrams that constitute this hexagram is of a blade of grass pushing up out of the ground. Chên, the Arousing, is associated with wood, and here this extends to the first shoots of grass as they emerge from the earth, represented by the three broken lines of K'un. This hexagram represents the first intercourse of Heaven and Earth (Ch'ien and K'un), giving rise to the eldest son, Chên. The obstacle that gives the hexagram its theme is the firm line in the strong fifth position. As the natural movement of Chên is to rise and that of both K'an and K'un is to sink, this hexagram suggests not only considerable turmoil, but also that these testing times are balanced by the assistance of naturally occurring energies.

 

4. Mêng / Youthful Folly

ePub

above Kên / Keeping Still, Mountain

below Kan / The Abysmal, Water

above Kun / The Receptive, Earth

below Chên / The Arousing, Thunder

The journey begins; it cannot fail to begin. Like a stream drawn inexorably to the sea by the force of gravity and the pull of the moon, the seeker may move in a clumsy, bumbling way initially, giving the appearance of confusion or lack of direction, yet the attraction of the Path is irresistible and, once embarked upon, will gather strength and purpose. Here K'an, as deep flowing water, represents both the seeker and the seeking. Before him lies the Mountain, representing the distant, unknown goal of all journeys: wisdom, self-knowledge, stillness; or, more simply, more immediately, adventure, challenge, Life itself. This is the beginning of a journey, or perhaps the renewal of a journey, and he must set forth unhesitatingly or risk turning his back on his own destiny.

The Fool is undisturbed by fears, desires, or preconceptions, and in this he resembles the Sage. Indeed, the Holy Fool, or Wise Fool, is a figure recognized at all times and in all places. In this hexagram there is an implied relationship between the Fool, or the innocent, whose journey is starting, and the Sage, or teacher, whose completed and perfected journey is symbolized by the mountain. In seeking a teacher, we demonstrate a realistic modesty, an interest in learning, and our preparedness for commitment to both the relationship and the journey. There is a saying, ‘When the pupil is ready the teacher appears’. The particular quality of this relationship, with its emphasis on mutuality and interdependence, is reflected in these words.

 

5. Hsü / Waiting (Nourishment)

ePub

above Kan / The Abysmal, Water

below Ch ien / The Creative, Heaven

above Li / The Clinging, Fire

below Tui / The Joyous, Lake

There are two aspects to the times represented by this hexagram. The first is connected to the idea of water in the sky (K'an and Ch'ien). Rain will come (K'an has a naturally descending motion while Ch'ien naturally ascends) and with it all the blessings it brings, but it will come in its own time. To a large extent we have lost touch with the simple fact of our absolute dependence on rain. Waiting for it symbolizes that state of uncertainty that pertains when our very lives and livelihoods are at stake.

Waiting without any guarantee of relief is extremely uncomfortable and unpleasant for human beings. While we are rarely as much in control of events as we like to think, our culture does encourage us in the illusion that the direction and success or failure of our lives lies in our own hands and waiting destroys this fantasy, evoking restlessness, anxiety, and even depression. At such a time it is important to maintain a realistic view of the situation and of our resources, both inner and outer, neither denying the difficulties of the time nor becoming overwhelmed by them. Each moment offers us a choice: can we live creatively and joyously in the present - the only time we ever really have - or are we blinded to this moment and its fullness by our obsessive focus on the future and the hoped-for resolution of this time of waiting? This hexagram reminds us of these questions and the nuclear trigrams Li, symbolizing clearsightedness, and Tui, meaning joy (as well as social intercourse such as conversation and the sharing of food and drink), indicate the path we should seek while we wait.

 

6. Sung / Conflict

ePub

above Ch ien / The Creative, Heaven

below Kan / The Abysmal, Water

above Sun / The Gentle, Wood, Wind

below Li / The Clinging, Fire

Conflict is inevitable and unavoidable in life. It is the strength of the conflicting forces of the opposites that drives our growth forward, as individuals and as a culture. We find solutions that work for a time and then the characteristic pull or drive of an apparently opposite energy begins to undermine that balance and the process starts again. But this dynamic is full of life; it is the very stuff of life. The conflict that is addressed in this hexagram may be more deathly in its grip. If we are called upon to make choices or mediate between antagonistic and even apparently irreconcilable principles or individuals or goals, we must recognize that a possible outcome will be open conflict, the resolution of which is impossible to predict. When attitudes have hardened and there is such a core lack of ‘fit’, compromise may become unachievable. In such a case we must be prepared to concede that the barriers to resolution are insurmountable and retreat may be the only option.

 

7. Shih / The Army

ePub

above Kun / The Creative, Heaven

below Kan / The Abysmal, Water

above Kun / The Receptive, Earth

below Chên / The Arousing, Thunder

This hexagram represents what lies deep inside the earth, or what is deeply a part of all of humanity, or what lies hidden in the individual. It addresses the question of resources, whether and how they can be called upon, and encourages us to consider what else may lie buried or unattended to within ourselves. K'an symbolizes groundwater, and K'un is the earth. It is seen in the I Ching as the army, because it is the strength and force that lies, ready to be called upon, in the general population. In this image, the one firm line in the second position is seen as the commander of the army, rightly positioned among his ‘men’, but we can also view it as representing the gifts or experiences or ‘thing’ that has real substance within us but that has become blocked or disregarded or inaccessible over time, unmourned, unused, unacknowledged. K'an represents a deep gorge or chasm with water rushing through; it also signifies danger and, as it is associated with the heart, it points to sorrow as well.

 

8. Pi / Holding Together (Union)

ePub

above Kan / The Abysmal, Water

below Kun / The Receptive, Earth

above Kên / Keeping Still, Mountain

below Kun / The Receptive, Earth

There are two strands to the picture at this time: the waters of the earth, represented by K'an, flow naturally to the sea. Water flows to water, and water obeys the drawing force of the moon (also K'an) through the tides. Thus, the yielding elements of water hold together through the natural laws governing gravity and tides. Against this natural background and its laws, the I Ching addresses the situation within the human world and, in particular, the requisite qualities for leadership that would enable one to command the respect and following of others, in the same way as the laws of nature command the movement of the waters. Those who wish to attain a position of influence in the eyes and hearts of others must first develop inner coherence and integrity; they must ‘hold together’ within themselves. And so the question of how to become a leader of others quickly becomes the question of how to lead one's own life. In other words, this hexagram throws us back upon ourselves in the way a Zen koan might do, challenging us to a deeper and more searching confrontation and questioning of our motives and desires, a more profound understanding of our true goals and ambitions.

 

9. Hsiao Ch'u / The Taming Power of the Small

ePub

above Sun / The Gentle, Wind, Wood

below Ch'ien / The Creative, Heaven

above Li / The Clinging, Fire

below Tui / The Joyous, Lake

For better or worse, it is a time when a small or ‘slight’ element or force is holding a much greater energy in check. There are many ways this could work: something small and ‘shadowy’ preventing the great thing from proceeding; or, perhaps, although everything appears to be in order and ready, yet the time is not really ‘right’; we must still wait, just a bit, or get one more thing ready. The influence of this element works to restrain an action or an energy, not to create an action of its own. In this case, the power of the Creative is being restrained as it seeks to rise and express itself fully.

This is a hopeful hexagram: even the ‘slight’, the ‘yielding’, at a particular time, can have an effect, and its power is through gentleness. As conscientious and peace-loving individuals have shown throughout time, sincerity, persistence, equanimity - a small word or gesture - can have far-reaching consequences. We should never underestimate the power of the small; like the wind, its influence may travel far.

 

10. Lü / Treading (Conduct)

ePub

above Ch'ien / The Creative, Heaven

below Tui / The Joyous, Lake

above Sun / The Gentle, Wind, Wood

below Li / The Clinging, Fire

This hexagram pictures the interplay between two energies of very different apparent strengths. Tui, representing the youngest daughter, the Lake and Joy, is following close behind Ch'ien, representing the father, Heaven, and the great energy of creativity. The eager and hungry energy of the young and ‘feminine’ bumps into the established power of traditional authority. Both are powerful and the methods or energies that they employ to get what they want could easily lead to a dangerous confrontation unless both conduct themselves in such a way that no real injury befalls either. For reasons connected with the attributes of Tui and Ch'ien, they are both associated with the tiger, a potent symbol not only in China but also around the world. In the Introduction, a poem was quoted in which the final reward of knowing the point of balance at any moment is that one can ‘think in front of the tiger’. The tiger seems to stand for the great mystery of existence, all that strikes terror in our hearts as we approach it, but, also, all that gives the deepest meaning to life. In many ways we could see the tiger as symbolizing all that is most beautiful and ruthless about life and its desire for more of itself. In certain forms of the practice of T'ai Chi, the end of each section is marked by a move called ‘Carry Tiger to the Mountain’, when the arms are used almost as a scoop to gather up the imagined animal and carry him gently to the mountain. Through this practice one comes to the point that the tiger has been gentled - it has become part of oneself - and it can be carried to the Mountain, Kên, the mysterious place of beginnings and endings.

 

11. Tai / Peace

ePub

above K'un / The Receptive, Earth

below Ch'ien / The Creative, Heaven

above Chên / The Arousing, Thunder

below Tui / The Joyous, Lake

This is a calendar hexagram representing February-March, the first month in the Chinese calendar. Within the hexagram the energies of the light and the dark are equal, but it is the light that is growing, from the bottom up, and the dark that is decreasing as it leaves from the top of the hexagram. Thus, the balance reflected in the lines is purely formal and does not necessarily signify equality. The image of an hourglass - albeit an inverted one - may be useful where half the sand has passed through and half remains. The movement is in one direction; the momentum is unstoppable; none the less, in the beginning this movement may be almost imperceptible. So it is with any change: the seeds may be invisible, its early growth may be unremarkable, but at a certain point it becomes both visible and undeniable.

In terms of the seasons, winter is releasing its grip. It is a time of year that can test both patience and trust, a time when doubt and limitation can lead to confusion and frustration. As the days lengthen the first real signs of change occur, but it may still be a long time before spring arrives. Sometime during this month the festival of Mardi Gras takes place, depending on when Easter falls. While this is a Christian celebration, instinctively it is not hard to imagine that its roots extend back to much earlier times, as it meets a need that has arisen out of the months of hardship and waiting. Pent-up energies express themselves in this festival of abandon and the celebration of the sensual.

 

12. P'i / Standstill

ePub

above Ch'ien / The Creative, Heaven

below Kun / The Receptive, Earth

above Sun / The Gentle, The Penetrating, Wind, Wood

below Kên / Keeping Still, Mountain

This is a calendar hexagram representing the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, August-September, a period that concludes with the autumn equinox. The order of the trigrams in the previous hexagram, T'ai / Peace, is reversed and instead of the ascending movement of Heaven supporting the descending movement of Earth, here the two draw apart and the creative conjunction that heralds spring is apparently broken. The light lines that filled the hexagram three months ago, at the time of the spring solstice (see Hexagram 1, Chi'en / Heaven) have now lost half their strength. The energies of growth and increase are declining and the balance will now begin to shift towards those of retreat and decay.

While this lessening of the light is to be expected in the natural cycle of the seasons and can even be welcomed and enjoyed, the hexagram also points to the more human experience of disjointed-ness and lack of ‘fit’, the feeling that the tide is out, or, at the very least, and perhaps more alarmingly, it is ebbing. At such a time nothing seems to flow easily; we feel helpless and unsettled and may be tempted to act impulsively in an attempt to detoxify the atmosphere. The nuclear trigrams suggest that gentleness (Sun) and stillness (Kên) may be a better way of managing frustration; a quiet heart at such a time is a great help while considering what else might be done. Perhaps it is time to do a sort of inner (and, possibly, outer) inventory, to ‘put our house in order’. The story of the Rainmaker is a good example of this: in an area in China in which there had been little or no rain for a long time the villagers, fearing for their crops and animals, sent for the Rainmaker. When he arrived, the old man asked for a small hut on the edge of the village in which he might stay. For a week he was hardly seen and, at the end of the week, it began to rain. Full of gratitude, the villagers asked him what he had done. His reply was that he had slept when he was tired, eaten when he was hungry, fetched wood when he wanted a fire, drawn water when he was thirsty. In other words, he aligned himself with his own Tao and by thus ordering his own being internally, he became a centre of external order and the ‘out of joint’ state in nature corrected itself. The trigram K'un represents an ‘earthed’ state of quiet carefulness in expenditure of money or energy, and this is not dissimilar to the actions of the Rainmaker.

 

13. Tung Jên / Fellowship

ePub

above Ch'ien / The Creative, Heaven

below Li / The Clinging, Fire

above Ch ien / The Creative, Heaven

below Sun / The Gentle, Wind, Wood

There is a great simplicity at the heart of this hexagram, reminding us of our common humanity. The image is of fire under the open skies of heaven. Over the millennia, human beings have come together and found fellowship around fires. In a sense, we could consider these gatherings - and the more general mastery of fire -as the earliest expression of human culture. Stories were told, dances performed, plans made, disputes aired and settled. The reality of community was demonstrated, validated, and witnessed by all around the fire. This hexagram directs our attention to the fact that this coming together of individuals is not to be a hidden or secretive affair; the strength of a body of people who openly celebrate their fellowship resides in mutual respect and in the absence of dark motives or liaisons that invariably lead to inner divisions. The time, then, may be one in which the individual is seeking, or needs to seek, this sort of fellowship, perhaps as a way to move beyond narrower personal constraints, obstacles, or fears.

 

14. Ta Yu / Possession in Great Measure

ePub

above Li / The Clinging, Fire

below Ch'ien / The Creative, Heaven

above Tu i / The Joyous, Lake

below Ch'ien / The Creative, Heaven

This hexagram represents an ideal: it pictures a brilliant sun high in the sky and suggests this as a symbol for the individual whose great gifts are governed by clear vision and discerning judgement. It further suggests that this individual's outstanding qualities both reflect and create the exceptional nature of the times. Rarely do we encounter such a person; rarely do we identify ourselves as so gifted; rarely do we feel the situations of our lives to be so full of light and creativity. The interpretation of this imagery is not easy.

Li represents the eye - vision, awareness, perhaps consciousness - and it is this quality or capacity that is emphasized here, particularly in its role as a conduit of light and understanding to the other five lines and as a channel for their creative energies. What we see and how we name it shapes our judgement and our choices. It has been said, ‘To see all is to forgive all’. The gifted individual pictured here has perhaps attained this level of wisdom, but our vision is much more likely to be partial, based on limited information, uncertain motives, or fleeting emotions. Harsh or ill-informed judgements may result in the limitation of our own creativity or that of others. The times may offer an important opportunity to take stock of how - or if - we are nurturing our unique gifts. To ignore or devalue our skills, our individual ‘genius’, is to deprive the world of our particular ‘light’. To own and take responsibility for those skills, to ‘possess’ them, requires that we withdraw projections we may have made on to others regarding their gifts and responsibilities and that we devote ourselves, in all humility, to the quiet work of clarifying and refining our gifts.

 

15. Ch'ien / Modesty

ePub

above Kun / The Receptive, Earth

below Kên / Keeping Still, Mountain

above Chên / The Arousing, Thunder

below Kan / The Abysmal, Water

Within the hexagram, all aspects of movement are in balance: the earth (K'un) sinks while the mountain (Kên) rises; thunder (Chên) rises while water (K'an) sinks. From this comes the familiar idea that the forces of nature equalize the heights of the mountains and the depths of the valleys over time, that water will carve and erode stone and fill every low-lying area and carry its burden of earth towards the sea to be deposited afresh along the way, recreating the land that will eventually rise again. The wise person recognizes that as we are a part of nature and its cycles and balancings, we do well not to over-value the heights of achievement or gain, or to fear excessively those times when our efforts fail to attract recognition or appreciation. In this hexagram, the emphasis is on the important balance between self-belief or self-confidence and something like reserve or - difficult word - humility. True modesty embraces this balance, and the image of a mountain beneath and within the earth is a powerful representation of this quality.

 

16. Yü / Enthusiasm

ePub

above Chên / The Arousing, Thunder

below Kun / The Receptive, Earth

above Kan / The Abysmal, Water

below Kên / Keeping Still, Mountain

Enthusiasm is an experience or feeling of excited ‘fullness’ or increase that invigorates and elevates us, making us feel more optimistic, more powerful, with more self-belief. We can infect others with our enthusiasm, drawing them to us, lifting them out of a heavier or narrower vision. In fact, without the co-operation of others, the energy of enthusiasm may fade or become more vulnerable to doubt. This complex relationship is reflected in the structure of Yu where five yielding (‘Earth’) lines and one firm (‘Heaven’) line are dynamically balanced. If we consider Earth as representative of mortality, the body, the transient forms of life and perhaps its more depressive energies, and Heaven as representative of the transcendent, the spirit, then the juxtaposition and interaction of these two at this particular moment is delicate, sensitive, yet full of potential for growth and creativity.

 

17. Sui / Following (Tracking)

ePub

above Tu i / The Joyous, Lake

below Chên / The Arousing, Thunder

above Sun / The Gentle, The Penetrating, Wind, Wood

below Kên / Keeping Still, Mountain

Tui, standing in the west and representing autumn, withdraws from the hexagram while Chên, standing in the east and representing spring, enters and ascends. Between autumn and spring lies winter, present implicitly although not explicitly in this hexagram. Tui is also associated with the mouth, with speech, and is, therefore, a very ‘human’ trigram. Its energy is joyful, positive, but also changeable. As the lake reflects whatever passes over it, so Tui can represent fleeting moments of emotion. Chên represents the powerful initiating energy of spring and first growth as well as being the trigram associated with the oldest son, who was responsible for the observance of ritual. Taking all these attributes and associations into consideration, we might imagine that the times represented by this hexagram require decisive, enthusiastic action and communication. But within the hexagram lie two trigrams that suggest an altogether different approach: Kên represents stillness and introspection, while Sun is associated with gentleness and a more intuitive attitude. In somewhat the same way as winter is implied in this hexagram, these qualities too are hinted at or ‘hidden’. Linking these two strands of interpretation together might suggest that attention should be paid to both the manifest and explicit realities of the time and also to what is not manifest but may be intuited or experienced through meditation or reflection. Bridging these two ‘worlds’ may be the challenge of the times.

 

18. Ku / Work on What Has Been Spoiled (Decay)

ePub

above Kên / Keeping Still, Mountain

below Sun / The Gentle, Wind

above Chên / The Arousing, Thunder

below Tui / The Joyous, Lake

The wind (Sun) is trapped at the base of the mountain (Kên). It is not a momentary standstill of air that is being addressed, but rather a situation that has arisen in the past and continues. The natural circulation of air is represented by the nuclear trigrams Chên, symbolizing the vigorous movement of beginnings, thunder, storms, even earthquakes, and Tui, the joyous, associated with movement arising from enthusiasm. Applied to life, we see that that which cannot move and circulate without hindrance will, in time, stop growing and developing and begin to stagnate and decay. Whatever is preventing or inhibiting or corrupting our energies, disabling us and our capacity to move and express ourselves, needs to be recognized and released freely.

It is perverse but true that although we know that we only have the present in which to make choices and live our lives, we continue to be affected by, and even in thrall to, the past, repeating behaviour that causes us or others to suffer. Much of our conditioning occurred in a way that renders it inaccessible to examination or change, but we can at least recognize that we are a great deal more than that conditioning and not allow it to continue to inhibit and spoil our freedom of choice in the present. Some aspects of the past and their effects in the present are more accessible, but we need to be aware of the power of the past and our conditioning to draw us away from the only time we have to live in, Now. We can find ourselves trapped again if the focus of our desire to understand becomes identified with events or figures in the past; the crucial emphasis is on re-establishing the conditions for movement and joy to occur in the present.

 

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